We meet again for another Fantastic Friday.
Under normal circumstances, right now I’d be packing for WWDC. I’ve been to the conference in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Alas, this year, I won’t be attending. The main reason being that I have two trips already scheduled for this fall, and felt that was enough travel for the year.
(Side note, come join me for seanwes conference and hear me speak.)
Secondly, we’ve just kicked off Focus Camp, and I wanted to be available to devote my full energy to that.
So, I’ll be watching the WWDC keynote from my basement instead of a hotel room at Parc 55. And I’ll be making my coffee at home instead of standing in line at Blue Bottle. Those of you headed out, don’t have too much fun without me!
And here are some of this week’s best links and items of note.
The Baron Fig Vanguard: These new notebooks from my favorite notebook maker are stellar. For me, the vanguard is not a full-on replacement for the Confidant, but I’m putting them to work as a single-purpose notebook. Using a Charcoal, Flagship, Dot Grid Vanguard (whew!) as my dedicated notebook while I work through the courses in Digital Commerce Academy.
Ugmonk 2.0: My friend, Jeff Sheldon, makes the coolest t-shirts and mouse pads you’ve ever seen. And he just launched a massive update to his brand and website. I also highly recommend you subscribe to the Ugmonk Journal. Jeff is a guy who walks the walk, and he’s going to be sharing a lot of the behind-the-scenes info of how he runs his business.
You Need a Business Model: Fantastic article from Jessica Abel. To make a living doing your creative work you need (a) skill at your creative endeavor, (b) systems for making constant progress, and (c) a business model so you can actually make a few bucks. What’s awesome is that all three of these things can be learned.
Quote of the week: “Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.” — Mark Cook, as quoted in The Lean Startup.
In a world where we value shipping early and shipping often, we can often loose sight of the purpose of shipping. If you’re trying to build a business, grow an audience, and provide value to others, then what you ship should serve that goal.
And I believe this sits in harmony with the idea of “scratching your own itch”. Because if what you’re shipping is a solution to a problem you face, then chances are very likely it’s a problem other people face as well.
That’s a pretty wonderful place to be in. Where you’re simultaneously solving your audience’s problems and also building products you love and are proud of.
If you’ve ever received an email from me where I asked you about your biggest challenge, now you know why. My aim is to get an understanding of what obstacles you’re facing and what tools I have in my tool belt that I can share with you to help you overcome those obstacles.
This week for Fantastic Friday I want to peel back the curtain a bit and share some personal notes.
I didn’t fully realize it until this week when it really hit me, but for the past several weeks (at least) I’ve been living with quite a bit of stress.
This morning I sat down and journaled out all the big projects going on right now.
Seeing each one listed out next to the others was eye opening.
The first thing I said to myself was: “Shawn, what were you thinking!?”
Now, people tell me that I write a lot about living a focused life. And so, in lieu of those topics, I think it’s important for me to share both sides of the coin: the things I do well and the things that I don’t.
(That’s why I shared about my own laziness.)
And so, today, for Fantastic Friday, I want to share with you a few of the small things I do to help keep my laziness in check.
Moreover, what I love about these things is that they also help during seasons of stress.
When you’re dealing with overwhelm, there are two responses. You either need to reclaim some margin back into your life, or you’ve just got to press on until you get the breakthrough.
If the latter, it’s helpful to have a few “lifestyle practices” to help keep you on track. Below are a few of mine.
Thanks, and enjoy your weekend!
1. Reading Daily
I read quite a bit during the work day, but also in the evenings. My routine is that every evening between 7 and 8pm I do something useful or productive. Such as reading, spending time with friends or family, or doing handy work around the house. That hour isn’t for cramming in yet more office work, but neither is it for zoning out.
(Side note: Right now I’m re-reading The Lean Startup. Highly recommended if you find yourself in the position of trying to build something of value while in the midst of extreme uncertainty.)
2. Writing Daily
When I start my work day, I make myself write before I do anything else.
3. Family Time and Weekly Date Night
As a type-A creative entrepreneur, it can be so easy for me to have work on the brain at all times. And combine that with a to-do list is literally never ending, and there’s always a reason to work long hours.
But I refuse to look back in 5-10 years from now and wish I would have spent more time with my family. Having boundaries around my work time and family time is a pretty no-brainer way of making sure work life doesn’t take over family life.
I journal for the sake of recognizing and celebrating progress. It’s one of the best ways to build and keep momentum in your life.
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Okay, one more tidbit…
Here are two quotes I use often throughout The Focus Course:
“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” — F.M. Alexander
“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” — John C. Maxwell
By far and away, the best way to keep the needle moving forward in life is to have smarter “defaults” for how to spend your time and energy.
If you choose the right actions and attitudes long enough, they begin to choose you back. And you find yourself naturally gravitating toward the behaviors you want to do as a lifestyle rather than the things you feel like doing in the moment.
You can get clarity about your own “lifestyle practices” by going through the Focus Course. There’s a group (including yours truly) that are going through it together this summer. I hope you’ll join us.
You can’t throw a rock at the internet without hitting a webpage where someone is talking about hustle.
Ask Gary Vaynerchuk how he defines hustle and he’ll tell you it’s “maximizing the energy you put into what you are passionate about.”
In his book, he says that hustle is the one tangible thing people can do to change the direction of their lives.
“If you want to turn up the hustle, you just have to spend more time doing whatever it is that takes you where you want to go.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot.
And, well… I simultaneously do and don’t agree with Gary’s definition of hustle.
However, the term hustle also carries a bit of baggage within some circles — because there’s this idea that sleep and rest are the enemy.
For me, I gravitate toward the word diligence, even though, really, I see diligence and hustle as close to synonymous.
The truth is, we only have (at best) a capacity of 3-4 hours per day that we can spend on deep and focused work.
And so, in order to maximize the energy we put into what we are passionate about, we need to live a healthy (a.k.a. balanced) life so that the time which we dedicate to our work is as efficient and impactful as possible.
In a nut: checking email 30 times per day is not “hustling”.
For me, to make every minute count, means:
- Living with focus.
- Minimizing distractions.
- Showing up to do the work.
- Taking time to rest well.
- Reading and learning.
- Accepting the ebb and flow of work.
- Spending time with my family.
- Saying no.
To make every minute count you’ve got to make every future minute count also.
And that means living a life today that won’t leave you burnt out, sick, and broke in 5 or 10 years.
Greg McKeown on Working Smarter, Not Harder
From his book, Essentialism:
What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you? By systematically identifying and removing this “constraint” you’ll be able to significantly reduce the friction seeing you from executing what is essential.
Before we just try to throw more hours at something, consider first what obstacles may be keeping us back?
For example, if someone is watching 5 hours of TV every night, there’s a pretty huge opportunity for reclaiming that time to spend it on more valuable things.
The crew at Fizzle recently put out an excellent podcast episode regarding “why hustle hurts you”. It’s a balanced and thoughtful discussion about the value of resting well and being okay with not-yet-breakthrough results in our business or side project.
In short: momentum. But that’s just one of the plethora of benefits of having a deep work activity that you show up every day for.
Your’s Truly, Regarding Goals
This little tidbit is adapted from one of the days in Module Two of The Focus Course.
There are two “camps” when it comes to goal setting.
On one side are those who champion for clear goal setting with a very intense, daily system for tracking your progress. This can be extremely helpful for the professional athlete, but it’s not always practical for everyone.
On the other side are those who champion for little to no goal setting at all. The mantra here is that it’s all about the joy in the journey.
There is value and truth in both of these camps. When we have a clear goal, it’s a way to define what the fruit of our life’s values and vision may look like, and this gives us something to be motivated toward and work for. That motivated state helps us make progress toward the things that are important in life.
If you spin the phrases of “qualitative” and “quantitative”, you get this dual-sided approach to goal setting.
By defining your goals you’re giving yourself something quantitative to attain. And then you can build a quality-of-life-centric lifestyle that is based on the foundation of your vision and values.
In short, you’re not only moving forward in the aim of attaining a tangible goal, but you’re also finding joy in the process.
It works like this: Decisiveness brings motivation for action; action brings clarity; clarity helps us make future decisions.
To me, this is what hustle is all about. Working hard to reach for a goal while also taking great joy in the process. Casting off as many distractions as possible and living a focused (and healthy) life.
Here we are, the first Fantastic Friday of May. Welcome!
On a personal note, my wife and I are almost done unpacking! It’s been 3.5 weeks since we moved in to our new home. We’re down to just the last few boxes — I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!
As any of you who have moved can surely attest to, it’s not easy to keep going. Each day I try to do at least one if not two projects around the house — even if they’re small projects. Such as yesterday: I (finally) put up a hand towel holder in our master bathroom.
In other news, I’ve got something awesome planned for The Focus Course that we’ll be doing in June. I’ll share more information with you in just a few days. But here’s a hint: it may or may not involve a cowboy hat…
I’m a huge fan of Stephen King’s book, On Writing, but I’m not a fan of horror fiction. So I haven’t read any of King’s fiction books until now… 11/22/63 is about a man who travels back in time. It’s not horror fiction, and the storytelling is fantastic. I’m still early on in the book, so don’t tell me what happens.
Last week I linked to one of the episodes of Unemployable featuring Austin Kleon. Since then I’ve listened to about a dozen more episodes of the show. It’s fantastic. The episodes are short (usually just 20-30 minutes) and full of inspiration.
This is the album I’m listening to right now as I type up this week’s Fantastic Friday.
May is here, the seasons are changing, and it’s as good a time as any for a fresh desktop wallpaper. For this one I just went to Unsplash and searched for “mountains”.
Hello friends, and welcome to another edition of Fantastic Friday.
The past two Fridays have been silent because, as you know by now, my family and I moved into a new home. We’re nearly settled in! As fun as it is to move to a new place, I’m ready to get back to life as normal.
This week’s edition of Fantastic Friday, I’ve got a few gadgets for you. One is a new one you may never have heard about but if you have an Apple TV you definitely need it. The others are not new, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth talking about.
Enjoy. And I hope you have a great weekend.
If you’ve got one of the latest-generation Apple TVs you know how awkward the Siri remote is. It’s difficult to tell which way is the proper way to hold it, and there’s no easy way to pick it up without fear of accidentally fast forwarding.
This case / cover for the remote solves all the handling problems of the remote. It makes it feel safe to pick up, you know which way to hold it, and it’s easier to hold.
2. The Apple Watch
Speaking of Apple gear, my pal Casey Liss recently wrote an article about how it’s becoming “trendy to be smug about the Apple Watch.” I’ve noticed this here and there for sure. Though, from where I’m sitting, most of my friends who bought an Apple Watch still wear it. As do I.
During our move I couldn’t remember which box I packed my Apple Watch charging cable in. It took me a few days to find the box and thus I went 48 hours or so without my Apple Watch. And it was a massive bummer.
I don’t use my Apple Watch for much, but what I do use it for is so helpful. I love being able to quickly reply to incoming text message threads; I love seeing what the outside temperature is every time I glance at my watch; I love being able to control the music we’re AirPlaying from my wrist; I love having one-tap access to a timer; I even love the Watch’s alarm chime far more than my iPhone’s.
The only two gripes I have about this incredible first-generation gadget is that I’d love it to be faster (especially when using Siri dictation), and I’d love for it to be even smarter about turning on the display when I’m trying to see what time it is. Otherwise, the conveniences the Apple Watch provide are fantastic.
I’ve had my Apple Watch for nearly a year now. I suppose a proper year-later review is in order…
So I finally broke down and bought a Sonos speaker. Thanks in no small part to a gift card from a friend. (Thanks, Tyler!) We’ve had the Play:1 for about a month and I’m still not sure about it. I’ll probably write more about my Sonos at some point in the near future, but for now my thoughts boil down to this: The speaker sounds absolutely incredible, but using the Sonos app is not so great.
What about you guys? Do you have a Sonos setup? It seems that if you’re going to go Sonos, you should go all-in with them and not just get one speaker for one room.
I’ve long been a fan of Simplenote. And once again the app proved its usefulness as I used it to compile pretty much all of the notes and ideas and other random tidbits of information related to our move. With things getting packed into boxes and just generally thrown into a tizzy for about 6 weeks, one thing I did have on me at all times was my iPhone. So, having a singular central spot for all the necessary information related to our move was so helpful.
Hopefully by now you’ve had a chance to make your cup of coffee. Because this week I have a few articles for you to read with your morning coffee.
But these quotes and articles are special for another reason.
On Monday, it will be the 5-year anniversary of when I began my gig as a full-time, indie writer. To “celebrate” I’m doing something special next week.
Today’s Fantastic Friday links are to particular articles that have been meaningful or impactful to me in some way over the past 5 years.
And, I have to say, picking out just 4 articles was nigh impossible. I had to print out the titles and URLs of at least 100 different articles from my Instapaper Likes and Pinboard bookmarks. Then I put them all up on a wall and threw four darts.* The four items below are the ones that got stuck.
* Okay, not really. But I should have thrown darts. That would have been awesome.
No doubt you’ve heard of this Kevin Kelly article, if you haven’t already read it once or twice (or a dozen times — ahem).
Kelly’s proposal is that an independent artist needs only about 1,000 True Fans to make a living. Ideally, the artist has a direct connection with his or her fan base and is able to create art directly for those people.
Over my years as an indie writer, I have tried to be honest and transparent with you: my “true fans”. I have tried to write about things and create things that are as helpful and exciting for you to read or use as they are for me to put together.
And, in my experience, it’s feasible.
Not that I have a count on how many “true fans” are around. But I do know that it takes less people than you’d think to help you earn a living, so long as you’re doing your best to provide as much value in return as possible.
I remember reading this article years ago, and I’ve never forgotten about it. Michael Lopp is one of my favorite writers, and his Nerd Handbook article is a riot.
(It’s funny because it’s true!)
If you’re a nerd, read it and weep. Then forward it to you significant other. If you’re not a nerd, you might be married to one, so you had still better read it.
Now we come to Frank Chimero. Frank’s writing is clear and incredible. His book, The Shape of Design, is one of my all-time favorite books.
And, as with most of Franks writing, in his article about What Screens Want you’ll find a secret message that’s not so much about design as it is about being intentional with our choices (and loosening up a bit).
Take the time to read Frank’s article straight through on the site. And be sure you’re in a setting where you can watch the short in-line videos.
This article from Jason Fried is just a little over 5 years old, and I have referenced it over and over again. In short: you get good at making money the same way you get good at anything else: practice.
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In other news…
Exactly five years ago today, I was taking the day off. Yep. I remember it clearly.
I had just quit my job as a marketing and creative director and was about to start my new job as a work-for-myself, work-from-home writer.
It seemed reasonable to give myself a 3-day weekend before starting my new job. So I took Friday off. Then, on Monday, April 4, 2011, I started my new job as a full-time, indie writer.
Five years later, I’m still here. Thanks entirely to you, dear reader.
Next week I’ve got each day planned out. I’ll be sharing stories about the past five years and more. Can’t wait!
Unknown to both my wife and I, our coffee grinder was losing its edge.
Nearly four years ago, Anna bought me a Bodum Bistro Grinder for my birthday. It was an awesome little grinder for a great price.
I used it every single day. Until one day, it broke.
We replaced it with the king of the hill: a Baratza Virtuoso.
And wow. The first cup of coffee using our new grinder was a revelation.
Who knew a great coffee grinder was so important? I mean, I knew they were important, but seriously the difference was huge.
In addition to the new grinder, the other (somewhat recent) addition to my coffee arsenal is the Kalita Wave. We’ll get to it in a minute. But I have to say that the Wave has officially replaced the AeroPress as my daily brewer. What a time to be alive.
All that said, this week you get to peek into the four key components of my daily coffee. (Since I keep the list to just four things, one thing had to leave out was my kitchen scale.)
It all starts with beans. Freshly roasted coffee beans make all the difference.
However, you may prefer to have freshly roasted beans delivered to your door. This is great for folks who don’t like going outside or for those who don’t have a great coffee roaster nearby where you can easily get access to freshly roasted coffee.
If you’re searching for a coffee delivery service, I highly recommend Crema.co.
Crema.co is like Netflix but for coffee. You add the coffees that you want to your list, and then you select how often you want a bag of coffee shipped to you.
This differs from coffee subscription services like Blue Bottle, because Crema lets you pick what you get. Where as with Blue Bottle, you get what they’re roasting.
I’ve gotten beans from Crema and I was very impressed. Great service, great pricing, great coffee.
This is the grinder we went with, and it’s fantastic. Here at the Blanc household, we like to buy things for life. So we went with a grinder that is excellent at its job, but also should last us for quite a while.
As I mentioned last week, this pour-over coffee maker has become my new favorite.
What I like about the Wave is that it can make a larger cup of coffee than my AeroPress (350g+ versus 250g), and I think the coffee it makes is much better than what you get from the v60.
I know everyone says that the AeroPress is super duper easy to clean. And it is, but I think a pour-over contraption like this is even easier to clean. You just dump the filter into the trash and rinse out the dripper itself. There are no moving parts, no lids, etc.
There are about 150 different variations of this glass bottle on Amazon. I’m pretty sure they’re all made at the same place, and everyone gets a turn putting their logo on the front.
What I like about my double-walled glass compared to my stainless-steel thermos is that the bottle is easier to clean in the dishwasher and it doesn’t fiddle with the flavor of my coffee.
Of course, the tradeoff is that the glass bottle doesn’t keep my coffee as hot for as long.
The glass bottle is also great for cold drinks, since the outside of it won’t sweat onto your desk.
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What better to go with awesome coffee than something to read? I’ll be sharing some great quotes and articles in next week’s edition of Fantastic Friday.
Before we dive into this week’s top four links, I have a challenge for you.
It’s Friday. Which means the weekend is upon us. And then, in just a few short days it will be Monday.
What’s your general attitude toward Monday?
Me? I happen to love Monday. I have looked forward to Monday for years. Because it’s the first day of my work week. (Of course, I love the weekend, too. I love them both. The workweek and the weekend — they’re both favorites.)
There are so many folks who hate Mondays. If that’s you — if you’re not a Monday person — think about how you normally spend your weekend.
My challenge to you is this:
Take this weekend and do one thing that will help you feel rested, recharged, or energized. I call this “resting well”.
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Now, on to this week’s Fantastic Friday links…
I’ve listed below four of my favorite email newsletters.
Each of the newsletters below are ones I read every week. I almost always find a helpful, interesting, or otherwise clever tidbit in each one. Enjoy.
Corbett Barr’s weekly email newsletter, Lifestyle Business Weekly, is a roundup of links relevant to the indie entrepreneur. Each week I find at least one or two articles in there that are interesting or helpful to me. Usually related to business growth, personal productivity, content marketing, or something similar.
+ And, speaking of Corbett Barr, I had the honor of interviewing him for my podcast a few weeks ago. We spoke about building an audience, building an online business, doing your best creative work over the long-run of a decades-long career, how to focus on doing the work, and more. You can find that podcast episode here.
Chris Bowler’s email, The Weekly Review, is a must read for me. It is, perhaps, the single most delightful thing to grace my inbox every week.
Chris is a clear thinker and a clear writer. Every issue of his newsletter contains easy-to-read and thought-provoking commentary on the creative life, online publishing, personal productivity, and more. He also includes a few sidebar sections with cool quotes, reviews of coffee or beer, and more.
I don’t know how they do it. MacStories Weekly is a feat in and of itself. If this was the only thing Federico and his team published each week, I’d be impressed. But no, they also publish an incredible website.
MacStories Weekly is a members-only newsletter. It’s $5/month to subscribe. It comes out every Friday (yay, Friday!) and is jam packed with app reviews, Q&A, tips and tricks, links, and more.
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P.S. A couple of months ago, my trusty coffee grinder died. I replaced it. And, while I was at it, I figured I’d try out a new coffee brewing gadget as well. I’ll tell you all about it in next week’s edition of Fantastic Friday.
Hello, and welcome to this week’s edition of Fantastic Friday.
Life in Kansas City has been a bit busier than normal. For one, earlier this week we launched a new class on time management. The response so far has been awesome, and I’m so thankful to all of you who have signed up and help spread the word.
Also, I have some exciting personal projects happening right now. I’ll definitely share more info once things settle down, but it’s been quite time consuming to say the least.
That said, this week I wanted to share four books that I’ve been gleaning from lately.
As you may know, I’ve been going through this book on my members-only podcast, Shawn Today. The Four Disciplines of Execution (a.k.a. 4DX) is about how to make significant and routine progress on your wildly important business goals. It’s designed for teams, and it outlines four “disciplines” that you incorporate into the way your company works in order to drive progress, reach goals, and boost morale.
As I mentioned above, my family has some exciting things going on. Let’s just say that this book is once again proving to be helpful. Even more so than when I first read it last year.
This book by J.D. Meier is fantastic and jam packed with ideas and practical systems for managing time and priorities. This book, combined with the ideas in The One Thing (see next book rec.) were both significant influences for what I put together in A Focus on Time.
This book by Gary Keller was one of the best books I read in 2015. It’s a very easy-to-read book with a massive takeaway about simplifying and focusing on the most impactful ways we can spend our time and energy.
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In other news: Over on The Sweet Setup we refreshed our pick for the best general purpose weather app. Over on Tools & Toys we reviewed the Amazon Echo. And the early-bird pricing for the time management class ends on Monday.
It’s Friday! I was recently asked by a reader about what podcasts I’d recommend.
While I don’t listen to podcasts frequently, I do listen regularly. Since I work from home, I don’t have much of a commute (unless half-a-flight of stairs counts). But whenever I’m in the car on errands I’ve got a podcast going.
And so, since I only listen to a couple of podcast episodes each week, I’m very particular about which episodes I listen to. Trying to choose only the ones that look the most interesting or relevant to me.
Which is why, as I’ve mentioned before, my number one feature request for Overcast would be a custom playlist that works like a “listen later” queue. I’d love to flag individual episodes from within Overcast and have them show up in a playlist and I could just work my way through that list.
But, that’s just details.
I mostly listen to business-centric podcasts these days. Below are are my four current favorite shows.
As always, thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.
I just discovered the Entreleadership podcast about six months ago, and have listened to nearly every episode since. It’s an excellent combination of tight editing with candid conversation.
The episodes are short (usually 30 minutes or less) and usually feature 2-3 different segments and conversations.
Some recommended episodes:
- Jim Collins — How to Build an Enduring, Great Company
- Seth Godin — How to Make Change Happen
- Shawn Achor — How Happiness Fuels Your Success
No surprise here. I’ve long been encouraging folks to listen to the Fizzle Show. It’s equal parts fun and helpful. From the practicals of starting and sustaining a business to the emotional ups and downs of entrepreneurship, these guys know their stuff.
Some recommended episodes:
- How to Grow — The 2 Types of Growth
- How We Deal With the Cesspool of Self Doubt
- How to Create Your Own Definition of Success
The unsung star of the seanwes podcast is actually Sean’s co-host, Ben. Being a co-host is not an easy job and Ben does an excellent job! The seanwes podcast covers a broad range of topics, primarily centered around building an audience-based business.
Sean is an excellent communicator and his show is always filled with excellent advice.
Some recent and excellent episodes:
- Get More Time in a Day, Increase Your Focus, and Accomplish All of Your Goals
- How to Build Business Assets the Smart Way
- The Long Game
I mostly pick and choose which episodes of the Tim Ferris Show I listen to. They’re usually 2 hours long, but they tend to be jam packed with incredibly fascinating and helpful information.
Some of the best episodes:
- Maria Popova on Being Interesting, Creating More Time in a Day, And How to Start A Successful Blog (I learned a fascinating technique from Maria in this episode about how to best take notes when reading a paperback book for research.)
- Tony Robbins on Morning Routines, Peak Performance, and Mastering Money
- Derek Sivers Part 1 and part 2 (absolutely must-listens!)
- How Seth Godin Manages His Life — Rules, Principles, and Obsessions
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In other news: Shawn Today continues with its series on 4DX. I announced my new class on time management. On Tools & Toys we reviewed an awesome pocket knife. And over on the Sweet Setup we picked the best 3rd-party email app for iOS: Microsoft Outlook.
This week’s Fantastic Friday comes to you from the Colorado Front Range. My wife and boys and I have been out here for the past week enjoying the unexpected warm weather and spending time with family.
And so, appropriately, this week’s four fantastic links are articles (and a video) straight from the best of my recent Instapaper queue. Enjoy.
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What a review. What a camera.
I believe that in hindsight — and I realize this sounds kind of crazy, as if I’ve binge-inhaled all of the Leica Kool-Aid at once — the Leica Q will be seen as one of the greatest fixed-prime-lens travel photography kits of all time.
Cal Newport, of course:
I find that the occasions when I most despair about the tattered state of my schedule are almost always the result of the accumulation of a dozen yeses that each made perfect sense in isolation.
Though I don’t have a formal attention charter, having some pre-defined limits for external requests on my time and attention is something I’ve done since 2008.
In my days as a marketing and creative director for an in-house design team, I received constant requests for meetings. And so, I simply had on my schedule “open meeting time” twice a week. When someone needed to meet with me, I’d let them know of my next available time. Not only did this remove a ton of mental energy to “find a spot in my schedule” but it also kept my unexpected meetings to a minimum.
These days, I have some similar limits. For example, I only accept speaking gigs to events I want to attend anyway (and, this year, at least, I’m keeping my speaking to just 2 events). I also flat-out ignore almost all incoming requests for product reviews across all of our websites — I have no doubt that we get some awesome pitches, but most of the time they are bulk email requests, and so I don’t try to separate the wheat from the chaff.
If I were giving a motivational speech, I’d say that, if you want to be successful and make a real contribution to the world, you have to be intrinsically motivated by the work you do, and you have to feel good about spending your days on it. Love might grow — and it’s a wonderful thing if it does — but you don’t need it up front. You can succeed just by wanting something to exist that doesn’t already.
Related viewing: This 99U talk by Cal Newport about why it’s bad advice to follow your passion, and this Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee episode with president Obama.
This is an absolutely amazing video from Jeremy Cowart. My wife and I had the privilege of seeing Jeremy perform this live last fall and, along with probably everyone in the room, we were deeply moved.
It’s another fantastic Friday!
As I’m sure you’re already aware, the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl! I remember when Denver won in Super Bowls 32 and 33. My friends and I ran down to the main street of our little town in Castle Rock, Colorado. We had our Broncos flags and air horns and just ran up and down the street waving at people. It was so fun.
And while I didn’t go running through any streets this past Sunday, it was so great to see the orange and blue get the win. Especially since this is most certainly Payton Manning’s final season.
Okay, I’m done talking about sports for the foreseeable future.
Today’s edition of Fantastic Friday is all about writing. As I mentioned in Wednesday’s article, the next few week’s I’ll be sharing about my own tools and workflows.
Today, I’m sharing with you the four most important elements of my writing routine.
Yesterday on Twitter I asked if anyone had any questions or topics for today’s article. I’ve tried to answer a few of those questions here, but there are more questions that I’ll aim to answer in a future post.
As always, thanks for reading!
1. A Very Clicky Keyboard
Remember a few years ago when I went hyper-nerd in search of an awesome clicky keyboard? My motivation was two-fold: (a) I’d only ever been typing on the standard-issue keyboard that came with the computers I owned; and (b) as a writer, it would behoove me to have the best possible keyboard.
Ultimately, the keyboard that really clicked with me (ha!) was the Filco Ninja.
If I were to replace my current keyboard, I’d get a CODE keyboard in either Blue or Green switches. What’s awesome about the CODE is the backlighting.
Monument Valley is an splendidly beautiful game for iOS. It also has an incredible soundtrack.
I’ve probably listened to the soundtrack close to 1,000 times. Even now, as I write this very sentence, I’m listening to it. It’s what I listen to when I write.
I began listening to this album over a year ago when I drastically changed my morning routine to favor writing above all else as the most important part of my work day.
The soundtrack is awesome, to be sure. But, another reason I continue to play it every day is that there’s some cool science behind this routine. After a few weeks of having this soundtrack on while writing, it become Pavlovian.
Getting into the flow of writing is hard. It’s always been hard, and I suspect it will continue to be so. By having a routine that surrounds my writing time it helps me to get in the zone faster and to stay focused for longer.
Lately, iA Writer has become my text editor of choice. Especially for one-off articles like this one.
I’m also a fan of Ulysses — and turn to it when I’m working on bigger projects that involve chapters / sections / etc.
As much as I’d love to do all of my writing in Ulysses exclusively (it has some super awesome features), there is just something about the bold simplicity of iA Writer that has kept it as my go-to daily writing tool.
Lastly is “The Note”. This is, by far and away, the single most important component to my writing routine.
For years I used to sit down at my computer in the morning and ask myself what I would be writing about today. Now, I decide topics far in advance.
Not only have I begun keeping an editorial calendar so I know what is being published and when over the next 4-6 weeks, but I also plan out what my writing topic will be each day.
The Note is what I use for planning out each day’s writing topic. It’s just something simple that I leave out for myself at the end of each work day, where, on the note I have written down the topic for tomorrow’s writing time. Then, the next morning, when it’s time to write, all I have to do is hit play on Monument Valley and put the clicky keyboard to good use.
+ Nerdy aside: For my “note” I write it in my Baron Fig Confidant notebook and a Uni-ball Signo DX 0.38mm pen. The same tools I use for my daily to-do list and schedule (something we’ll get into later).
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P.S. For more info regarding my writing workflow, check out this Q&A. »
First off, you know I have to say it: In just a few short days the Denver Broncos will be on the world’s stage. I’ve been drinking out of my lucky Denver Broncos coffee mug every day this week. Here’s hoping Manning can go out in style.
Secondly, we are officially wrapped up with Margin Month. I thought this “themed” month was a great idea and it turned out so well. The three most popular posts were the one on time management, the one on creative energy, and the interview with Cal Newport.
I’m going to be diving back into all the material and compiling it into a single resource. Also, because I received so much feedback about schedules and time management stuff, I’ve begun putting together a new teaching resource on time management. I’ll be sharing more on that in the coming weeks.
That said, enjoy the links below and have an awesome weekend. Go Broncos!
P.S. Did you know there’s a Super Bowl 50 app for any and every one of your Apple devices (including Apple TV). Awesome!
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Or 4DX for short. I’m reading this book right now and it’s awesome. Next week, as we kick-off “Workflow Month” on the site, I’ll be going through this book on the Shawn Today podcast.
The Four Disciplines of Execution is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it. If you want to go through it over the next month and follow along in the podcast book club (oh my nerd), grab a copy and sign up for membership access to the show.
The Long Game
This is a 3-part video series about showing up every day to do the work. It’s fantastic. (Hat tip to Sean McCabe, of course.)
You can watch all three videos back-to-back in just under 21 minutes. They’re masterfully done and the message is one we all need to hear in our pursuit to do our best creative work.
I realize we’re already in to February. For me, now that the momentum of January’s new projects is underway, it’s a great time to audit the tools and workflows I use.
As I mentioned earlier, over the next few weeks I’m going to be writing about the tools and workflows I use to get the job done.
The New Day One is Here
Over on The Sweet Setup we’ve updated our review of the app.
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In other news: This week I wrapped up Margin Month with two podcast interviews: one with Cal Newport and one with Havilah Cunnington. And this coming Monday we’re kicking off the next month’s theme: Workflows. I’ll be writing about tools, workflows, and more. If you’ve got something specific you’d like to see me discuss, get in touch.
A week ago it was snowing outside and I had no idea what the outcome of the Denver Broncos game would be. And here we are, the Broncos are going to the Super Bowl (sorry, not sorry, Chris) and tomorrow it’s going to be 65 degrees in Kansas City.
This morning I had the honor of speaking to a crew of 100 creative entrepreneurs here in Kansas City. The monthly KC Coffee and Design meet-up is one of my favorite things. This morning we had a workshop entitled “Finding Your Creative Focus”. Here’s a picture (Thanks, Cherish!).
A huge thanks to everyone who came out for the workshop this morning. I had a blast!
Now, normally I like these Friday emails to be focused on the outgoing. But there is so much awesome and cool stuff happening with shawnblanc.net and The Focus Course right now that I wanted to take a chance to highlight it.
As always, thanks for reading.
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Several thousand folks went through the Elements of Focus this past December, and the feedback I received was fantastic.
Now that January is coming to a close — if you’re needing a fresh jolt of motivation, ideas, clarity, help, etc. Then this, my friend, is the class for you.
It’s 10 days, with a video for each day, delivered via email. The videos are on demand, so you can watch them at the time of day best for you. And they are shot (just 5 minutes).
Click here to sign up or learn more about the class. The next class begins on February 8th.
Speaking of, earlier this week I had the privilege of sharing with the Lean OmniFocus community about my OmniFocus workflow. Spoiler: I’m not nearly the OmniFocus nerd I used to be. But I still had a lot to share about time and task management and, of course, meaningful productivity.
It boils down to decision making fatigue. And if you can make some basic changes to help alleviate all the little inconsequential decisions you make throughout the day, it leaves much space for making the bigger decisions.
Two Awesome Podcasts coming up next week
If you enjoyed this week’s podcast with Corbett Barr, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve got two more fantastic guest shows lined for next week as we wrap up this month’s focus on Margin. Check back in on Monday for the first podcast, and Wednesday for the second.
Hello friends, and welcome to another edition of Fantastic Friday.
The past several days have been fun as we’ve been diving into the topic of Margin. In case you missed it, there is a running list of all the articles and podcasts related to Margin over here on this page. There is still quite a bit we’re going to cover. Such as, Monday’s article where we’re going to dive into the topic of Time Stewardship.
Have an awesome weekend.
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Some friends of mine, Joel Sorge and Caleb Culver, are kickstarting an incredible take on the Audio Bible. Their project is to create an audio Bible for the book of Psalm, composing original music and videography for each of the 150 Psalms. I think it looks and sounds awesome; I’m already in as a backer.
This episode of the Seanwes Podcast is excellent. Some great advice here about just how important it is to be able to say “no” to certain opportunities and commitments so that you can create the space to focus on that which is most important.
Old workflow habits die hard — I’ve been using the defaul email apps on OS X and iOS for ages. But for iOS I thought I’d give Outlook a try, and it’s pretty awesome. The design is simple and clean. The two inboxes (“Focused” and “Other”) are super helpful, as is the file browser. I don’t use the Calendar much, but it’s well done.
Way back in 2007, when I first set up shawnblanc.net, my motivation was a bit narcasstic. This site was going to be “Shawn Blanc on the Net”. It was meant to be my spot where I could write about whatever I wanted.
I’m all for having a place where, as a writer, I can write freely about the topics that interest me most and the ideas that have me most puzzeled. However, something I’ve learned is that to do work that matters, it can’t be mostly about me. It has to be mostly about you, the reader, the customer, the listener, the subscriber.
Oftentimes, the hardest work is the work of helping other people. It’s easy for us to hide behind the safety of saying that the work we are doing is for ourselves. Because then, when someone doesn’t like it or agree with it, we can shrug it off because we made it for ourselves. But when we say “here, this is for you“. That’s when it gets frightening. Becasue, what if they don’t care? What if they don’t want what we have to offer.
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In other news, this week on Shawn Today, I had had special guest, Mike Schmitz, join the show to talk about how Margin Enables Hustle. Over on The Sweet Setup we picked Television Time as the best app for tracking TV shows. And on Tools & Toys, Josh Ginter posted an epic review of the Olympus E-M5 Mark II.
Welcome to the first edition of Fantastic Friday for 2016.
Fantastic Friday is something I’ve been sending out for the past several months to subscribers of The Fight Spot newsletter, and the response to it has been great. But I decided that it was something I wanted to publish here on the site as well.
In short, it’s a link roundup and other personal notes from me. It’s “Fantastic” because it has just four links in it (get it?).
The links could be anything. From an awesome book, to a quote, new gadget, incredible video, productivity tip, and more. All to give you something interesting, helpful, and fun as you head into the weekend.
Savvy readers have no doubt noticed a change in publishing cadence here on shawnblanc.net over the past year. A lot of that is due to the work I’ve been putting into The Focus Course. But it’s more than just that…
The scope of Blanc Media has grown tremendously in the five years since I quit my job to blog for a living. In 2011 it was just this website and my members-only podcast. But now it’s much more.
A few months ago I was at a crossroads. While I have a world-class crew of contributing writers, editors, and photographers that make Tools & Toys and The Sweet Setup possible. But things were at the point where I needed further assistance.
I knew I couldn’t keep up with managing everything that was going on with the business. And so I had to decide to either scale back the work we were doing or to bring on additional help.
After speaking with several close friends and mentors, the choice was clear.
And so, just this week, I hired my first full-time employee.
His name is Isaac and he’ll be helping me with a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that goes in to publishing podcasts, newsletters, and more.
If you want to know more about the motivation behind those choices, and what is next for Blanc Media, you can read my Day One journal entry from early December.
All this said, there are some awesome things in the pipe for this year that I am excited to dive in to. Including a massive update to the scope and perks of the shawnblanc.net membership as well as a new product I’m working on that’s for creative entrepreneurs.
Starting next week, and for the rest of January we’ll be diving deep on the topic of Margin, and I’ve got something fun I’ll be giving away on Monday.
For now, I hope you have an awesome weekend! Enjoy the fantastic links below, and, as always, thanks for reading.
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Cal Newport has quickly become one of my favorite writers and thinkers. His book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, was one of the most impactful books I read in 2015.
A few days ago, his new book hit the shelves: Deep Work. The hypothesis behind Newport’s book is this:
The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
Amen to that. Now, I’m still working my way through the book, and I will certainly be sharing more about it later this month, but you can bet your britches that this topic is going to be one we come back to many times this year.
As I wrote about in my 2013 article on the rough elements of a successful creative business, I believe that roughly 75-Percent of a successful creative business should be spent on the art itself — the “content”. This is the hard and frightful work of actually making stuff. If you’re not spending the majority of your time actually making something, you’re doing it wrong.
Doing deep work is all about actually making something. It’s about doing the strenuous and difficult work that comes with focus, intentional practice, finding flow, and getting breakthrough in our skills.
+ Bonus reading from Cal: Resolved to Live a Deep Life
On more than one occasion I’ve recommended the Fizzle podcast and their membership. Right now they’re having a huge sale on annual memberships to Fizzle. I highly recommend this site. In fact, Blanc Media just hired its first full-time employee, and one of the ways I’m doing on-the-job training for Isaac is to have him go through the Fizzle courses.
Just what it says on the tin. In GIF format.
I was recently interviewed by Eric Jorgensen for his U-Turn podcast. It’s a show where he interviews folks who started out on one career path and ended up somewhere else entirely. As you may or may not know, my career started out 15 years ago going to Bible college in Denver. I dropped out after my freshman year, life happened, and now here I am in Kansas City blogging from my basement.
To me, the path from there to here seems totally logical. There was a reason for each major transition in my life, and in retrospect I look back and can see the cause behind each major decision and how that moved me in this direction.
But, when you zoom out to see the big picture, the story seems more curious. So, all that said, if you’re interested in the “Shawn Blanc Origin Story”, or whatever it is, I think you’ll enjoy this show.